Thoughts about faith

Thoughts on “Mindful Living”

Mindful Living is all the buzz in secular psychology these days. A simple web search will produce volumes of articles and   books. In one such search I found articles on “The Calligraphy of Mindfulness”, “Mindfulness Meditation Can Reduce the Sensation of Pain”, “Mindfulness According to William Wordsworth”, and “Mindfulness, Mindful Eating and Eating Disorders.” Before I comment more on this “mindful movement” let’s examine it’s roots.

First what is “Mindful Living?” According to livingminodfully.org it is:

Mindfulness is about waking up to life and what it means to be fully human. The practice of mindfulness is marked by openness and curiosity toward your experience.  Mindfulness meditation develops awareness and compassion, which are essential to living skillfully.  Compassionate attention helps develop many qualities and abilities such as focus, clarity, insight, love, compassion, and joy.  These translate into reduced stress and anxiety, improvements in health and mental wellbeing, and greater adaptability and appreciation in life.  Mindfulness practice helps us to take care of ourselves and thus transform the suffering and stress in our lives and in our society.

Pasted from <http://www.livingmindfully.org/>

Another similar sight puts this statement across their home page:

At LivingMindfully.com we embrace all paths that lead to peace & oneness…

Pasted from <http://livingmindfully.com/>

According to an article on wikipedia the origins of Mindfulness are Buddhist:

Mindfulness (Pali: sati, Sanskrit: smṛti / स्मृति) in Buddhist meditation.; also translated as awareness) is a spiritual faculty (indriya) that is considered to be of great importance in the path to enlightenment according to the teaching of the Buddha. It is one of the seven factors of enlightenment. “Correct” or “right” mindfulness (Pali: sammā-sati, Sanskrit samyak-smṛti) is the seventh element of the noble eightfold path. Mindfulness meditation can be traced back to the Upanishads, part of Hindu scriptures and a treatise on the Vedas. [1]

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness>

The same wikipedia article goes on to explain the connection between Buddhist Mindfulness teaching and Western medicine:

Mindfulness practice, inherited from the Buddhist tradition, is increasingly being employed in Western psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions. Scientific research into mindfulness generally falls under the umbrella of positive psychology. Research has been ongoing over the last twenty or thirty years, with a surge of interest over the last decade in particular.[23][24] In 2011, NIH‘s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) released finding of a study where in magnetic resonance images of the brains of 16 participants 2 weeks before and after mindfulness meditation practitioners, joined the meditation program were taken by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Bender Institute of Neuroimaging in Germany, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. It concluded that “..these findings may represent an underlying brain mechanism associated with mindfulness-based improvements in mental health.”[25] A January 2011 study in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, based on anatomical magnetic resonance images (MRI) of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) participants, suggested that “participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.” [26]

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness>

From my own reading Mindfulness, at least as employed in Western thinking, seems to center on taking the time to slow down, observe your actions, and appreciate the nuances of them. Although I am not a Buddhist or particularly well verses in Buddhist philosophy I immediately sensed a contradiction. I always thought that Buddhist thinking and meditation was about clearing the mind and to stop thinking. So Buddhism would seem to be about being unmindful to me so how can the same philosophy produce Mindfulness? Indeed as I read further I found I am not alone in seeing this contradiction. Under the heading of “Zen criticism” in the same wikipedia article I found this criticism:

Muho Noelke, the abbot of Antaiji, explains the pitfalls of consciously seeking mindfulness.

We should always try to be active coming out of samadhi. For this, we have to forget things like “I should be mindful of this or that”. If you are mindful, you are already creating a separation (“I – am – mindful – of – ….”). Don’t be mindful, please! When you walk, just walk. Let the walk walk. Let the talk talk (Dogen Zenji says: “When we open our mouths, it is filled with Dharma”). Let the eating eat, the sitting sit, the work work. Let sleep sleep.[22]

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness>

Now that sounds more like what I would have expected from an Eastern philosophy.

Confused? I sure am! So am I supposed to be mindful during my walk or am I supposed to let the “walk walk?” See the contradiction? To some the mind is the problem. Any amount of thinking is counterproductive. The less you think the better. Don’t think. Just do. To others we need to be thinking just at a slower, positive, present level. Both seems to claim to grow from the same root stock yet have contradictory applications.

As a Christian my first and foremost question is should I be seeking any wisdom from Buddhist philosophy? Is not Buddhism a competing world view to the Biblical worldview? There is no question in my mind that Buddhism is a competing worldview. My Christian worldview is not one in which the ends justify the means. While something might work for some people does not alone make it worthy of my consideration. History is full of man’s philosophies and attempts to make sense of the life we live and the world we live in. What separates Christianity from the plethora of human philosophies is directional. Human philosophy is man’s attempt to explain existence, life, and the meaning of it all. Christianity, and specifically the Scriptures (Old and New Testament), are God’s revelation to man about existence, life, and the meaning of it all. See the difference? One is man trying to explain “god”, or whatever concept of ultimate truth they espouse, and how we are to live. The other is God revealing to man his existence, his purpose, and his God. Human philosophy is limited by definition because it starts from a position of ignorance guided only by what may be observed and imagined. Divine revelation is limited only by what God choses to reveal and the finiteness of our minds in understanding what an infinite God reveals to us. Since human philosophy has no way of knowing if it is on the mark it can only judge by what appears to be efficacious. If it makes your life go better then it must have value and in the end that’s the best we can hope for since by human philosophy we never can know the truth due to the inherent limitations of our own knowledge. We see this in the plethora of human religions, philosophies, self-help books, and so on. Google enough and you will find a multitude of often contradictory articles on how to deal with a problem in your life. I might suggest as well that human philosophy so often has issue with Biblical Christianity precisely because it allows for “many paths” to a truth or solution whereas Biblical Christianity allows for just one. Saying there is only one way to truth is fighting words to those who embrace many paths. It is seen as arrogant, ignorant, intolerant, and any of a number of like synonyms.

Really you can reduce worldviews down to two. There is the Biblical worldview and the secular/humanist worldview. Within the secular/humanist worldview there is the scientific worldview. Science limits itself to that which can be observed, repeated, tested, and falsified. Quite simply if something falls outside the ability of science to explain it (by it’s own rules) then it falls into the intellectual limbo of unknowability. Science can advance the theory that the universe began in a Big Bang in which highly condensed matter literally exploded and went on to form galaxies, stars, and planets. Science cannot address where that matter came from nor the rules or laws that dictated the results of that explosion. Such questions lie outside the bounds of science and thus are unknowable. Ironically modern Western thinking proceeds from the premise that all this is knowable is knowable via the scientific method and the rest is not worth philosophizing about. At times though Science stumbles upon it’s own logic like postulating that the matter for the Big Bang came from the collapse of a parallel universe of which there may be a countless number. Such postulation does nothing to resolve the issue. It just shoves the question back further in time. Ultimately you are faced with the same question. Where did the matter come from for that the very first universe (or first set of parallel universes)? Where did the laws come from that determined how that matter would act? Science cannot answer that question and never will be able to despite physicists like Stephen Hawking boldly declaring that religion is not necessary to explain such things and that science has all the necessary resources. Funny how a man who is so staunchly atheistic describes a universe that can create itself out of nothing (ex-nihlo) the very words used by theology to describe how God created the universe (see: http://articles.cnn.com/2010-09-02/world/hawking.god.universe_1_universe-abrahamic-faiths-divine-creator?_s=PM:WORLD ). Stephen Hawking is sounding very much like a theologian to me. He just doesn’t want to ascribe this ex-nihlo power to an identifiable, knowable God but instead leaves it to an impersonal universe. Whatever works for you Stephen.

Science, though part of the secular/humanist worldview, really sets itself at odds with both the Biblical worldview and rest of the secular/humanist worldviews. I stumbled upon an article about a psychologist Ellen J. Langer(http://chronicle.com/article/The-Art-of-Living-Mindfully/63292/) who created a bit of an uproar through a blog entry she wrote for Psychology Today.  She recounted a story of a friend who had gone with a group on a trip to India during which they met a guru who asked to have his picture taken with them. Two photos were taken with different cameras and when developed neither photo pictured the guru. He was unexplainably not in either photo. Langer offered no explanation but used the story to suggest that when the data does not fit the theories (i.e. there was no logical reason the guru should have been absent from the photos) then we need to “open our minds to possibility.” Not surprisingly Langer was railed at for making such an un-scientific, intellectually untenable suggestion. All Langer is suggesting is that when the facts don’t fit our theories then we need to think “outside the box.” Therein is the rub. Science cannot think outside the box. The box is science. Remove the box and you remove science. Thinking “outside the box” in science is limited to challenging theories and positing new ones while staying inside the box of the scientific method.

I digress though. So what about the Christian and Mindful Living? Is this worth our consideration? I think not and here is why. We already have divine revelation that tells us all we need to know about life and how to live it. It’s called the Bible. Our problem is our ignorance of it. The typical scenario plays out like this. Secular psychology touts the benefit of some Eastern philosophy such as meditation or Mindful Living and it’s all the rage. Thoughtful Christians come along and say that parallel ideas are taught in the Bible and point a few out. They then suggest that such a philosophy does have benefit for the Christian providing we consider it in the Biblical context. While I appreciate this approach to me it begs a troubling question. Why does it take a Buddhist philosophy employed by Western psychology to get us Christians to reconsider what’s been sitting in our Bibles and within the proper context for thousands of years! Could it be that we are scandalously ignorant of our Bibles? I think the answer is a resounding yes!

I found an article that attempted to address Mindful Living and Christianity. What caught my eye was that the first 90% of the article quoted various men like 17th century monk Brother Lawrence, Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, and Dr. Normal Vincent Peale (all men it seems who tried to blend Biblical Christianity with Eastern philosophy). Finally at nearly the end of his long article he quotes two Bible passages with minimal comment. Apparently the philosophies of men have more meaning than the divine revelation of God. I don’t find this shocking though as the articles author sounds far more Buddhist than Christian to me and his list of links are strong evidence for that.

My call in this posting is for us Christians to start being Christians! Romans 12:1-2 describes how we go about doing this:

1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, [a]acceptable to God, which is your [b]spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this [c]world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may [d]prove what the will of God is, that which is good and [e]acceptable and perfect.

Pasted from <http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+12&version=NASB>

The key is found in verse two. It is the renewing of our minds. We renew our minds by reading God’s divine revelation to us (i.e. we read the Bible). Biblical meditation is not some mindless state like Buddhist meditation but rather the focusing our minds on what we are reading and allowing it to wash over us as guided by the Holy Spirit to where it informs us on how to live. The Word of God is instructional and propositional. It is not a philosophy. It is precisely because it is instructional and propositional that it is rejected by most. We all love philosophies because there are so many to pick and chose from and if one doesn’t work why just pick another. Philosophies do not demand anything of you. They can be safely ignored.

I could write, and perhaps will, another article on God’s teaching on how to deal with everyday problems and worries that Mindful Living seeks to address. What we don’t need is to read books and articles on Mindful Living written from a Buddhist philosophical viewpoint. What we do need is to practice Romans 12:1-2 and allow the Spirit of God to renew our minds through the Word of God.

Human philosophies will come and go although nothing is truly new any more. Buddhist teachings have been around for centuries. Certain aspects of it will gain popularity from time to time but it’s all been there for centuries.  God though is eternal and His revelation predates anything Buddhism or any other human philosophy has posited.  Why follow the imaging’s of men when you can go straight to the Source – the divine Word of God?

I’m sure Mindful Living has helped some. The goal though as a Christian is not just learning to live a more peaceful and happy life. Biblically happiness is a by-product of a right relationship with God. It is not an end unto itself. We are living mindfully when we realize that it is God who created all things for our use and pleasure as we seek to love, obey, and glorify Him. We become enlightened by renewing our minds as per Romans 12:1-2. Enlightenment though is always limited to that which God has revealed as we will never have the mind of God. It is in knowing that God, His purpose for our lives, and His divine plan for eternity that our everyday acts take on mindfulness. Don’t focus on mindful living though. Focus on your relationship with God through His revelation and in the person of Jesus Christ and you will live mindfully.

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